When you see the word WOCKA, you might think of Shakira or former 2016 presidential candidate Mr. Flocka Flame. Here at Swarthmore, the acronym takes on a different meaning. WOCKA (pronounced with an o as in boat), or Women Of Color Kick Ass, is a group where people who identify as women of color participate in meetings and discussions of their experiences.
“We chose the name ‘Women of Color Kick Ass’ not only because it’s a really cool acronym, but because we truly are a dynamic group full of people who are all individually doing their own thing and succeeding, often against the odds,” said board member Jasmine Rashid ’18.
WOCKA differs from other identity based groups on campus because it welcomes women of any race or ethnicity other than white and allows people to self identify as a Woman of Color instead of explicitly defining what that means. “We definitely spend a lot of time talking about just validation that, yes, if you consider yourself a woman of color then you absolutely are a woman of color,” WOCKA board member Niyah Morgan-Dantzler ’18 said.
Board member Joelle Bueno ’18 believes that having a group for all women of color regardless of ethnicity is beneficial for people from different cultures to be able to share and bond over their similar and unique struggles. “There’s a lot of stuff that resonates [between us] and that expands our understanding of women of color,” Bueno said.
“There are very specific challenges experienced by each unique ethnic and cultural group that must be recognized. I would not say that WOCKA waters down these differences, but rather allows women with similar backgrounds to find each other and build community together while still creating a solidarity with other women through shared thematic experiences we may not have known we had,” group member Keyanna Ortiz-Cedeno ’19 said.
“There’s specific circumstances when you’re a woman and when you’re of color that men of color and just women in general wouldn’t necessarily be able to understand, and that’s why we really wanted to create this space, because it’s something very specific, and while all our experiences are different because we are not all the same people, it’s something very individual to being women of color,” Morgan-Dantzler said.
Rashid and Bueno brought up some of the different issues the group deals with, including colorism in beauty standards, imposter syndrome in classrooms, feelings of invisibility in social situations, and the pressures regarding sexuality. While these sentiments arise in different ways depending on the student’s cultural background, the themes and feelings often transcend individual experience.
Morgan-Dantzler added that being systemically discriminated against as a woman and a person of color, while not a positive thing, is something that many women of color bond over.
Although WOCKA had existed previously, the group was re-formed last year when the founders were doing homework and began talking about their various experiences. “We realized at that point that a lot of us had been going through the same things, and we realized ‘OK, this is happening to all of us individually and we’re struggling by ourselves, but it doesn’t need to be that way, and there’s probably a lot of other people who would benefit from being able to have these conversations,” Bueno said.
“We knew that at an institution like Swarthmore, it’s hard to understand and work through these [stereotypes] when you feel like you’re the only one and wanted to start WOCKA as a safe space to dive into conversations and deconstruct these themes,” Rashid said.
Many members of WOCKA are also involved in other groups that are similarly organized around a racial identity, and they find that while going to these groups allow them to relate more closely to these cultural ties, WOCKA allows for intersectional discussions and the opportunity to share common and unique experiences.
“Because I am not required in this space to call upon how I most frequently relate to [a specific aspect of my heritage], I can focus wholly on the greater issue of empowering and restoring pride in those of us women whose ‘womanness’ has always been immediately preceded and defined by another qualifier,” Ortiz-Cedeno said.
WOCKA member Jada Smack ’18 is also a member of the queer POC group on campus, COLORS, and says the most noticeable difference between the two is the emphasis on queerness verses women’s issues.“My purpose in going to WOCKA is to talk in particular about the shared experiences of self-identifying women,” Smack said.
Members say that the group’s focus on weekly discussion broadens their view of feminism and what it means to be a woman of color. “I personally always leave feeling empowered,” Rashid said.
Bueno said she can see clearly the association between being able to speak about her experiences as a woman of color and her ability to achieve in academic and social settings. “I finally have ownership over my experience; I’m an individual with control over my own thoughts, and I can speak better. I can apply myself better in my classes,” Bueno said.
Morgan-Dantzler echoed a similar sentiment. “It’s hard when you’re struggling with your identity and struggling with feeling so different and isolated on campus. Going to WOCKA meetings, having these conversations and feeling validated in my experiences, and recognizing I’m not the only one who goes through these things has made me a lot more comfortable with simple things like speaking in class, being more confident in my ideas and in my writing, thinking outside the box when I’m doing projects instead of doing the bare minimum because I thought that that’s all I could achieve,” Morgan-Dantzler said.
Moving forward, the group hopes to welcome more members to the group and create a more defined executive board to keep the group going through the years.